7 Surprising health benefits of eating seaweed

Seaweed or sea vegetables are forms of algae that grow in the sea.

They are a source of food for ocean life and vary in color from red to green and from brown to black.

The algae grow along the rocky coasts of the whole world, but they are consumed with greater frequency in Asian countries like Japan, Korea and China.

It is extremely versatile and can be used in many dishes, including sushi rolls, soups and stews, salads, supplements and smoothies.

In addition, seaweeds are very nutritious, so a little goes a long way.

Here are 7 benefits backed by the science of seaweed.

1. Contains iodine and tyrosine, which support thyroid function

Benefits of algae

Your thyroid gland releases hormones to help control the growth, energy production, reproduction and repair of damaged cells in your body (1, 2).

Your thyroid is based on iodine to produce hormones. Without enough iodine, you may begin to experience symptoms such as weight changes, fatigue or swelling of the neck over time (3, 4).

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for iodine is 150 mcg per day (5).

Seaweed has the unique ability to absorb concentrated amounts of iodine from the ocean (6).

Its iodine content varies greatly depending on the type, the place where it was grown and how it was processed. In fact, a dry leaf of seaweed can contain from 11 to 1.989% of the IDR (7).

Below is the average iodine content of three different dried algae (8):

  • Nori: 37 mcg per gram (25% of the RDI)

  • Wakame: 139 mcg per gram (93% of the RDI)

  • Kombu: 2523 mcg per gram (1,682% of the RDI)

Kelp is one of the best sources of iodine. Only one teaspoon (3.5 grams) of dried seaweed could contain 59 times the RDI (8).

The algae also contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which is used together with iodine to produce two key hormones that help the thyroid gland do its job correctly (9).

Summary The algae contain a concentrated source of iodine and an amino acid called tyrosine. Your thyroid gland requires that both function correctly.

2. Good source of vitamins and minerals

Each type of seaweed has a unique set of nutrients.

Spraying some dry seaweed on your food not only adds flavor, texture and flavor to your food, it is also an easy way to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals.

In general, 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dry spirulina can provide (10):

  • Calories: twenty

  • Carbohydrates: 1.7 grams

  • Protein: 4 grams

  • Grease: 0.5 grams

  • Fiber: 0.3 grams

  • Riboflavin: 15% of the RDI

  • Thiamine: 11% of the RDI

  • Iron: 11% of the RDI

  • Manganese: 7% of the RDI

  • Copper: 21% of the RDI

The algae also contain small amounts of vitamins A, C, E and K, along with folate, zinc, sodium, calcium and magnesium (10).

While you can only contribute to a small percentage of some of the previous RDI, using it as a condiment once or twice a week can be an easy way to add more nutrients to your diet.

The protein present in some marine algae, such as spirulina and chlorella, contains all the essential amino acids. This means that seaweed can help ensure you get the full range of amino acids (10,11, 12).

Seaweed can also be a good source of omega-3 fats and vitamin B12 (10, 13, 14).

In fact, it seems that dried green and purple seaweed contain substantial amounts of vitamin B12. One study found 2.4 mcg or 100% of the RDI of vitamin B12 in only 4 grams of nori seaweed (14, 15).

That said, there is an ongoing debate about whether your body can absorb and use vitamin B12 from algae (16, 17, 18).

Summary Seaweed contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including iodine, iron and calcium. Some types may even contain high amounts of vitamin B12. In addition, it is a good source of omega-3 fats.

3. Contains a variety of protective antioxidants

Antioxidants can make unstable substances in your body, called free radicals, less reactive (19, 20).

This makes them less likely to damage their cells.

In addition, excess production of free radicals is considered an underlying cause of several diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes (21).

In addition to containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, marine algae have a wide variety of beneficial compounds for plants, including flavonoids and carotenoids. It has been shown to protect the cells of your body from free radical damage (21, 22).

A lot of research has focused on a particular carotenoid called fucoxanthin.

It is the main carotenoid that is found in brown algae, such as wakame, and has an antioxidant capacity 13.5 times greater than vitamin E (21).

It has been shown that fucoxanthin protects cell membranes better than vitamin A (23).

Although the body does not always absorb fucoxanthin well, absorption can be improved by consuming it along with the fat (24).

However, algae contain a wide variety of plant compounds that work together to have strong antioxidant effects (25).

Summary Seaweed contains a wide range of antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids and flavonoids. These antioxidants protect your body from cell damage.

4. Provides fiber and polysaccharides that can help your intestinal health

Intestinal bacteria play a huge role in your health.

It is estimated that it has more bacterial cells in its body than human cells (26).

An imbalance in these "good" and "bad" intestinal bacteria can lead to diseases and discomforts (27).

Seaweed is an excellent source of fiber, which is known to promote intestinal health (28).

It can represent around 25 to 75% of the dry weight of the algae. This is higher than the fiber content of most fruits and vegetables (29, 30).

Fiber can resist digestion and be used as a food source for bacteria in your large intestine.

In addition, it has been shown that the particular sugars found in seaweed called sulphated polysaccharides increase the growth of "good" intestinal bacteria (31).

These polysaccharides can also increase the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which provide support and nutrition to the cells lining the intestine (31).

Summary Seaweed contains fiber and sugars, which can be used as a food source for bacteria in the intestine. This fiber can also increase the growth of "good" bacteria and nourish your gut.

5. It can help you lose weight by delaying hunger and reducing weight

Seaweed contains a large amount of fiber, which does not contain calories (29).

The fiber in seaweed can also slow the emptying of the stomach. This helps you feel fuller longer and can delay hunger pains (27).

It is also considered that algae have anti-obesity effects. In particular, several animal studies suggest that a substance in the algae called fucoxanthin can help reduce body fat (32, 33, 34).

An animal study found that rats that consumed fucoxanthin lost weight, while rats that consumed the control diet did not.

The results showed that fucoxanthin increased the expression of a protein that metabolizes fat in rats (34).

Other studies in animals found similar results. For example, it has been shown that fucoxanthin significantly reduces blood sugar levels in rats, which aids in weight loss (35, 36).

Although the results in animal studies seem very promising, it is important that human studies are conducted to verify these findings.

Summary The seaweed can help you lose weight because it contains few calories, fiber filler and fucoxanthin, which contributes to an increase in metabolism.

6. Can reduce the risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Factors that increase your risk include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and being physically inactive or overweight.

Interestingly, seaweed can help reduce blood cholesterol levels (37, 38).

An eight-week study fed rats with high cholesterol on a high-fat diet supplemented with 10% lyophilized seaweed. He found that rats had 40% less total cholesterol, 36% lower LDL cholesterol and 31% less triglyceride levels (39).

Heart disease can also be caused by an excess of blood clotting. Algae contain carbohydrates called fucans, which can help prevent blood clotting (40, 41).

In fact, an animal study found that sea kelp fucans prevented blood clotting as effectively as an anticoagulant drug (41).

Researchers are also beginning to observe the peptides in the algae. Initial studies in animals indicate that these protein-like structures can block part of a pathway that increases blood pressure in your body (42, 43, 44).

However, large-scale studies in humans are required to confirm these results.

Summary Algae can help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of blood clots, but more studies are needed.

7. May help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar control

Diabetes is a major health problem.

It happens when your body can not balance your blood sugar levels over time.

By 2040, it is expected that 642 million people worldwide have type 1 or type 2 diabetes (45).

Interestingly, seaweed has become a research focus for new ways to support people who are at risk of diabetes (46).

An eight-week study of 60 Japanese people found that fucoxanthin, a substance found in brown algae, can help improve blood sugar control (47).

Participants received a local algal oil containing 0 mg, 1 mg or 2 mg fucoxanthin. The study found that those who received 2 mg of fucoxanthin had improved blood sugar levels, compared to the group that received 0 mg (47).

The study also observed additional improvements in blood sugar levels in those with a genetic disposition to insulin resistance, which generally accompanies type 2 diabetes (47).

What's more, another substance in seaweed called alginate prevented blood sugar spikes in animals after they were fed a high-sugar meal. It is thought that alginate can reduce the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream (48, 49).

Several other studies in animals have reported better control of blood sugar when algae extracts are added to the diet (50, 51, 52).

Summary Fucoxanthin, alginate and other compounds in marine algae can help reduce your blood sugar levels and, consequently, reduce the risk of diabetes.

Possible dangers of algae

Although seaweed is considered a very healthy food, there may be some potential dangers of consuming too much.

Excess iodine

Algae can contain a very large and potentially dangerous amount of iodine.

Interestingly, the high iodine intake of the Japanese is considered one of the reasons why they are among the healthiest people in the world.

However, the average daily intake of iodine in Japan is estimated at 1,000-3,000 mcg (667-2,000% of the RDI). This poses a risk to those who consume algae every day, since 1,100 mcg of iodine is the tolerable upper limit (TUL) for adults (6, 8).

Fortunately, in Asian cultures, algae are commonly eaten with foods that can inhibit the absorption of iodine by the thyroid gland. These foods are known as goitrogens and are found in foods such as broccoli, cabbage and bok choy (8).

In addition, it is important to keep in mind that algae are soluble in water, which means that cooking and processing can affect their iodine content. For example, when the kelp is boiled for 15 minutes, it can lose up to 90% of its iodine content (8).

Although some case reports have associated seaweed consumption and iodine-containing thyroid dysfunction, thyroid function returned to normal once consumption was stopped (53, 54).

However, high amounts of marine algae can affect thyroid function, and the symptoms of excess iodine are often the same symptoms of lack of iodine (6).

If you think you are consuming too much iodine and experience symptoms such as swelling around the neck region or weight fluctuations, reduce the intake of iodine-rich foods and talk to your doctor.

Heavy metal load

Algae can absorb and store minerals in concentrated amounts (8).

This poses a health risk, since marine algae can also contain large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead.

That said, the content of heavy metals in marine algae is usually lower than the maximum concentration limits in most countries (55).

A recent study analyzed the concentration of 20 metals in 8 different seaweeds from Asia and Europe. He found that the levels of cadmium, aluminum and lead in 4 grams of each seaweed presented no serious health risk (56).

However, if you consume algae regularly, there is a possibility that heavy metals will accumulate in your body over time.

If possible, buy organic algae, as they are less likely to contain significant amounts of heavy metals (56).

Summary Seaweed can contain a large amount of iodine, which can affect thyroid function. Algae can also accumulate heavy metals, but this is not considered a health risk.

The bottom line

Seaweed is an increasingly popular ingredient in kitchens around the world.

It is the best dietary source of iodine, which helps maintain the thyroid gland.

It also contains other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K, B vitamins, zinc and iron, along with antioxidants that help protect cells from damage.

However, excess iodine from seaweed could damage thyroid function.

To obtain optimal health benefits, enjoy this ancient ingredient in regular but small quantities.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-seaweed


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